Lions cannot afford to be complacent against bottom-placed Sharks

Assistant coach Barend Pieterse says the Durban team has nothing to lose

Lions assistant coach Barend Pieterse says he will never underestimate the Sharks, 'whether they are number one or number 20'. File photo.
Lions assistant coach Barend Pieterse says he will never underestimate the Sharks, 'whether they are number one or number 20'. File photo.
Image: Richard Huggard/Gallo Images

The Lions have no business being complacent against the bottom-placed Sharks in their United Rugby Championship clash at Ellis Park on Saturday.

In fact, the Lions, who beat the Sharks in their earlier clash in Durban, have much to remedy in the wake of four straight defeats, reminded assistant coach Barend Pieterse.

“If we had beaten the Bulls in both those games then there might have been room for complacency but given where we are in the season, we can't be complacent. I don't believe we are. We've had two very good training days this week and three last week.”

He said the Lions have gone through a period of introspection. “We looked at the errors and what went wrong but also what worked. There were also some good things that emerged from those games,” said Pieterse, careful not to dispose of baby with bath water.

The point is perhaps further underlined by his view that the Sharks are on an upward curve. They were flat at the start against the Stormers but gradually sunk their teeth into their opponents in an honourable defeat.

“They showed that against the Stormers. Not a lot of teams can come back like that against the Stormers. It is going to be a very tough game if you look at who they can pick.

“We have to be ready for them. We can't just think it is going to happen. We can't think playing at three o'clock will do it for us in hot weather. It is definitely not the case any more, with any team from this side of the world.”

Pieterse believes the Sharks are at a crossroads and have nothing to lose. He expects them to come out swinging. “They could come out and try things that might work for them on the day, or maybe not. We won't underestimate the Sharks, whether they are number one or number 20.”

If anything, the coach is hopeful his players will respond to the challenge of measuring themselves against several individuals who may be higher up the national pecking order.

“You don't just play to draw a salary at the end of the month. You play for a higher purpose,” said Pieterse.

The Lions appeared to have lost some of their lustre in their latest match against the Bulls. They operated under pressure and looked constrained, perhaps as a result of relinquishing set piece superiority to the Bulls. Their set pieces have to function properly if they are going to fire meaningful shots in attack.

“Set piece will always be a focus, even if it went well in the last game,” he said. “Against the Bulls we know they are a good set piece team. We had plans for that and on the day they didn't come off. We have to fix it.

“As a team we need our set piece to run properly for us to be in the game and win. We don't have 23 X-factor players. It will be down to who does small things that will determine the outcome.”

The Lions are yet to determine whether industrious flank Emmanuel Tshituka will be available for selection on Saturday.